Originally created 07/05/97

Augusta celebrates July 4th



Wesley Mann, 7, can't explain what the Fourth of July means to him any other way than this:

``Now that's what I call fireworks!'' the youngster shouted. ``Woo-hoo-hoo-ha!''

Thousands of people appeared to agree with Wesley, their wild cheers and applause ringing off the Savannah River on Friday evening as the 12-minute fireworks display at riverwalk brought an end to a scorching July Fourth that saw 100 degree at Daniel Field, the National Weather Service reported. Richmond County Sheriff's Department officials estimated 10,000 people turned out to watch the riverwalk festivities.

Augusta's highest-flying native, Lt. Cmdr. Susan Still, started her Fourth of July with a recording of Kate Smith singing God Bless America as the wake-up call in space shuttle Columbia.

``Happy Birthday America!'' the seven crew members shouted in a videotaped message.

Rita Denk, of Reading, Pa., did some flying, too, for the holiday, hopping a plane to visit friends in Augusta.

She contemplated the holiday's meaning as she participated in the celebration at riverwalk Friday.

``It's about how lucky we are to live in this country despite all its imperfections,'' she said.

Along Riverwalk, a man strolled dressed as Uncle Sam. Booths sold replicas of the crown worn by the Statue of Liberty and red, white, and blue sequined tank tops.

Sheila Stevenson and Ed Zejewski got their matching flag-designed shirts last year in Atlanta at the Olympics. ``This is about the best place to be,'' Ms. Stevenson said.

Of course, she was standing in the shade at the time. Many people might have thought being in a pool or air-conditioned room would be a better place.

It was too hot to do much of anything at Patriots Park in Columbia County late Friday afternoon. Too hot to jump in the inflatable crown-shaped balloon that sat empty. Too hot to ride the ponies trying to doze and graze on a nearby ball field. Too hot to kick a soccer ball with Dad for more than 10 minutes.

And all just perfect for Paula Gough, staffing a snow-cone booth.

``The hotter, the more people come out and buy these,'' she said. She'd just finished pouring strawberry-banana flavoring on the fifth snow cone she'd sold in less than two minutes - not a bad pace at $2 a pop.

Fewer than 40 people plodded around Patriots Park at 5:40 p.m. - when a bank temperature sign read 104 degrees - though there were attractions and musicians on hand throughout the day. Last year, at least 10,000 people packed the park to watch the fireworks, Ms. Gough's partner, Maurice Waters, said. The same-size crowd was expected Friday.

At riverwalk, the Army was under fire in a pitched battle, so to speak. For members of U.S. Army Signal Corps Band, holding the correct pitch became a chore in the heat, said Sgt. 1st Class David Meisel.

``It dries you out, especially for a brass player,'' he said. The band rehearsed outdoors three days last week to prepare.

First aid workers at riverwalk reported treating only one person for heat-related symptoms. Of all area hospitals, only Aiken Regional Medical Centers treated any heat cases Friday. It treated two on the Fourth and eight Thursday.

But some people like it hot - if they can get to water and cool off. So it was a fun-filled afternoon of activity and fireworks at Little River Marina and Family Resort at Thurmond Lake, said Pam Bugg, owner. An estimated 3,000 people watched the fireworks and 5,000 boats crowded the lake, Ms. Bugg said.

Meanwhile, business was booming at fireworks stands in North Augusta from early morning to late Friday evening.

Glenda Washington of North Augusta came to appease her son, Abram, 5, with a few rockets, and Andy Scott of Augusta came with his sons Preston and Drew, who Mr. Scott said had been bugging him all day about the trip.

``We got a small bag, and we spent $15,'' Mr. Scott said.